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Of Travel and Library of Celsus...Ephesus

When we began planning a trip to Turkey, little did I realise just how often I would find connections to my interests and more so to my work, in this beautiful country.

While the ever popular Istanbul and Cappadocia were on our itinerary, I knew more than these, that I wanted to visit Ephesus a little town close to the Aegean coast. So that's exactly what we did...we flew into Izmir, the airport closest to Ephesus.

I have a deep fascination for the ancient civilisations and as a story educator, I have for the past 16 plus years been using stories from Greek Mythology across the school year for a particular grade.

Turkey combined both my areas of interest in ways more than I could have ever dreamed of.

Let me start my posts with my first and favourite destination in Turkey.

According to the Greek historian and geographer Strabo, Ephesus was founded by the Amazons, a group of Greek female warriors and hunters believed to have lived in the Black Sea coast. If you know the Hercules story well, you will know that one of his labours was to get the belt of Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons. This connected right back to all the mythology I narrate to my students.

One of the highlights of my trip was visiting the Library of of Celsus in Ephesus dating back to A.D. 110-135 AD.

One of the only remaining examples of great libraries of the ancient world, the Library of Celsus was only behind only those of Alexandria and Pergamum, in size.

It is believed to have held around 12,000 scrolls. However, one could not just go in and borrow them because scrolls took a lot of painstaking hard work. So if you needed some information, you could go into the library and refer to the papyrus scrolls.

The writers of the scrolls were highly valued given that they needed to be educated i.e. read and write…which was not very common at the time.

The facade is beautifully imposing. The four statues placed in the façade’s niches represent abstract concepts…Sofia (Wisdom’), Arete (‘Virtue’), Ennoia (‘Insight’), and Episteme (‘Knowledge’). They are personifications of the virtues of Gaius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus in whose honour this library was built.

Infact, Celsus is buried in a crypt beneath the library in a decorated marble sarcophagus.

Can you see the sarcophagus in the image below?

The interior of the library and its contents are believed to have been destroyed in a fire that resulted either from an earthquake or a Gothic invasion in 262 CE, and the façade by an earthquake in the 10th or 11th century. It lay in ruins for centuries until the façade was re-erected by archaeologists between 1970 and 1978. Just imagine that!! More that the physical effort to re-erect the facade, the actual piecing together the facade like a jigsaw puzzle.

When I see monuments like this, I am overwhelmed and am in awe of the archeologists who uncover and tell us their stories.

I walked around the library and imagined the librarians pulling out just the right scroll for their patrons, the value of the history being documented.


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